Rowan has been alone since his family died, and he wants to keep things this way. He’s not willing to care about someone else and have them ripped away from him. His heart wouldn’t survive it.
Clay has been alone since his family died, but when he sees Rowan working at the bar where he’s hunting a Kudlak, he can’t stay away, doubly so after Rowan saves him from the Kudlak and tells him they’re mates.
Hunting Kudlaks is Rowan’s destiny, but he stepped back from it a long time ago. Hunting Kudlaks is Clay’s mission, and he won’t let anyone or anything take him away from it.
Rowan is hurt and stubborn, while Clay has been adrift for a long time. They both need someone to love and care for, but will they be able to admit it? Or will one of them stubbornly cling to their loneliness and lose the greatest love they can ever have?
Rowan scrubbed the counter to give himself something to do, then glanced around the bar. The few people hanging around all had a drink, which meant that, at the moment, Rowan didn’t have anything to do.
He hated when that happened.
He was always better when he could stay busy and avoid his mind wandering. Bad things happened when he allowed his mind to go where it wanted, and since he was at work, he’d rather not end up curled up in a corner crying for his dead family.
So instead, he started cleaning the counter again.
“You should take your break,” Crystal said as she placed her tray on the counter and slid it toward him.
Grateful for something to do, he grabbed it, took the dirty glasses off it, rinsed them in the sink, then placed them into the dishwasher. “I’m fine,” he grumbled.
Crystal arched a blonde brow. “Are you?”
She never believed him, and she was right not to. Rowan was a liar, and he had been all his life. Since he was a kid, he’d told himself everything would be okay.
That was the biggest lie he’d ever told himself.
Rowan forced himself to smile. “I’m fine,” he repeated. “It’s not like there’s a lot of work to do.”
“Which is why you should take your break. Lacey and I will be fine. Besides, it’s not like you’re going far.”
She wouldn’t let it go until Rowan agreed, so he glanced up again. He wouldn’t leave Crystal and Lacey alone in the room if he thought any of the people sitting there were a danger to them. He could only see regulars, though, and besides, Tommy was at the door, keeping an eye on things. The girls would be okay, even if Rowan left them on their own to deal with the customers for half an hour.
Rowan sighed heavily and glared a little at Crystal. She didn’t seem to care—she just stared until he finished cleaning the tray and handed it back to her. “I’m taking my break,” Rowan grumbled, drying his hands.
“Good. And if you happen to go to that sandwich shop, bring back something, all right?”
Rowan hadn’t planned on going, but he would now that Crystal had mentioned it. He didn’t have to ask what she wanted because, like everyone else, she had a standing order.
He tugged off his apron and left it behind the bar before heading to the back room, where he’d left his backpack and jacket. He’d need his wallet if he was going to do this. He hadn’t planned on getting dinner, but he suspected Crystal would find out if he didn’t, and she’d let him know what she thought of him not eating.
He wasn’t sure when any of this had happened, but he seemed to have found a family. It was nothing like the family he’d lost, but it still warmed his heart to have people who cared about him. Crystal would have gotten worried if he’d insisted that he didn’t have to take a break. She wanted him to be happy, and while he doubted that was in the cards for him given his past, he could be at least content.
He was. His life was fine, and that was perfect as long as he didn’t have expectations. He had a normal apartment. It wasn’t extraordinary, but it also wasn’t too bad. He liked his job, even though it didn’t pay much.
And that was that. That was Rowan’s entire life, nothing more, nothing less.
He left the bar and headed to the sandwich shop, putting in the usual bar order. Tommy had been thinking about opening up the kitchen to get at least a few bar foods going, but he’d need to renovate the kitchen, and of course, he’d have to apply for licenses and whatnot. Rowan was glad he wasn’t the owner. He didn’t understand half of what Tommy regularly grumbled about when it came to taxes and all of that. Still, it would be nice not to have to leave the bar to get food, especially in the winter.
Thankfully, it was almost summer now, and the weather was nice. The air was warm, even this late at night, and it was nice to smell the night air rather than the air inside the bar. That was all beer and sweat, which wasn’t exactly pleasant to Rowan’s shifter nose.
He was less grumpy by the time he got back to the bar, maybe because his stomach was full. He had several bags in his hands, and as soon as he stepped in, he lifted them so everyone could see them. Lacey squeaked, then rushed toward him, making grabby hands. He wasn’t sure what was in which bag, so he handed everything over to her.
“I’m starving,” she said, leaning closer to kiss his cheek. “Thank you so much.”
“Don’t worry about it, and eat while it’s still warm.”
“Are you eating with us or getting back behind the bar?”
“I’m back at work. I already ate so there’d be someone to take care of the customers.”
She nodded and walked toward the corner of the room where she and the others usually gathered. In most bars, the owners wouldn’t have allowed servers or bartenders to eat during their shift, but Tommy was relaxed. The customers were used to seeing it, and no one had anything to say as long as there was someone behind the bar to pour drinks.
Which was where Rowan came in.
He grinned as Tommy left his stool to go stand with Lacey so he could see what was in the bags. Rowan had thought of him, too, and Tommy gave him a thumbs up when he saw that was the case.
“Hi,” a woman said, getting Rowan’s attention.
He smiled at her. “What can I get you?”
She leaned forward, her arms bracketing her breasts. Rowan had been at this job long enough to see what she was doing. The position was meant for him to get a good look at her chest, and he would have enjoyed it if he hadn’t been gay.
The woman was pretty, with bright red lipstick and warm brown hair. She wore a pair of tight jeans and a tank top, and there was no doubt in Rowan’s mind as to what she wanted. Unfortunately for her, she wasn’t going to get it, at least not from him.
“A beer,” she purred.
Rowan nodded, staying professional. “I’ll be right with you.”
He went to work, getting her beer ready, then handing it to her. She pouted a bit when she realized he wouldn’t give her what she wanted, but thankfully, she could take no for an answer.
Women usually did. It was often the guys who were a problem, and Rowan looked around again to ensure everyone was behaving the way they should. As he did so, his gaze snagged on a guy sitting close to the door. He had his back to the wall as he looked around the room, his gaze moving from one table to another.
Then his gaze stopped on Rowan.